The Third International after Lenin

Friday, October 9, 2015

Refugees and the communist fight for working-class solidarity

Vol. 79/No. 33      September 21, 2015
Open the borders to refugees now! 

The Socialist Workers Party demands Washington ‘Open the borders!’ to the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere driven from their homes as a result of capitalist exploitation, competition and war. The SWP’s sister Communist Leagues in the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere are initiating and joining protests demanding their imperialist rulers do likewise.

We salute the proletarian response of tens of thousands of working people in Europe who reject chauvinism and welcome the immigrants, demanding the governments where they live do the same.

The deadly turmoil in the Middle East and Africa today is a result of the coming apart of the imperialist-imposed order headed by Washington, as well as decades of betrayals by Stalinist and nationalist misleaderships that claimed to speak for the toilers of the region. It is a product of the world crisis of capitalist trade and production, which falls most heavily on toilers in the semicolonial countries.

The Socialist Workers Party has a proud history of demanding Washington open the borders to those seeking refuge — from Jews fleeing Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s to Kurds and others following the 1991 U.S. assault on Iraq.

“Crumbling borders weaken the employer-fostered competition between workers of different nationalities and widen the cultural scope and world view of the working class,” SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes wrote in Capitalism’s World Disorder. “This process strengthens the fighting potential of labor’s battalions and brings new experiences and militancy into the workers movement.”

Widespread working class solidarity and aid to the fleeing toilers stands in stark contrast to the response of their rulers, who block fleeing refugees with border fences and naval flotillas and paint immigrants as terrorist threats. Workers can see more clearly the need for our class to act — to take a revolutionary course to break from the capitalist parties, to build labor parties based on the unions on the road to overthrowing the dictatorship of capital and joining the worldwide fight for socialism, a society based on relations of human solidarity, not me-first dog-eat-dog capitalist values.


Vol. 79/No. 34      September 28, 2015

Solidarity with Syrian toilers, refugees key for working class 

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, fleeing slaughter at the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime, are facing riot police, razor wire fences and other dehumanizing treatment on the part of the continent’s capitalist rulers.

It’s a pressing question for the working class today to fight to organize these men and women as part of the class struggle, in whatever country they end up. Organize all workers into the unions! Fight for government-funded programs to provide jobs at union wages for native-born and refugees alike, building infrastructure, schools, hospitals and other things workers need. Fight against the rulers’ attempts to criminalize or deny civic rights to refugees and other immigrants! No to discrimination and thuggery, whether at the hands of the border patrol or rightist gangs!

The labor officialdom in the United States and the different capitalist countries in Europe have refused to carry out the fight for working-class unity over decades, instead joining with each of their bosses’ governments in advancing a nationalist and protectionist course. Workers everywhere have to chart a new road forward.

It’s different than a general call to “open the borders,” as an editorial in last week’s Militant put forward. That’s a utopian demand, and, if adopted under capitalist rule, would lead to increased competition among workers, unemployment, lower wages and social misery.

Workers worldwide also need to extend the hand of solidarity to the embattled people in Syria, the vast majority of whom, including most workers and farmers, remain within the country or have been forced to seek refuge in surrounding nations. Nearly 8 million are displaced inside the war-torn country; another 4 million are in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region.

Demand an end to the brutal assaults of the Assad government and other enemies of the toilers in the region.

The one place in Syria where the masses have produced a capable fighting force and successfully defended themselves is in the Kurdish-dominated areas, where they have beaten back Assad’s army and Islamic State alike. Workers around the world need to back the Kurds’ struggle for national rights and a homeland and oppose assaults against them by the rulers of Syria and Turkey, backed by Washington.

The crisis in Syria is a product of the defeat of the 2011 uprising against the Assad regime, and its continuing slaughter in the years since; the emergence of the reactionary Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, filling a vacuum of working-class leadership left by decades of betrayals by Stalinist and nationalist misleaderships; and the effects of Washington’s wars and occupation of Iraq.

It is exacerbated by the unraveling of the imperialist order forged by the victors of the two World Wars, principally Washington, and the efforts of the imperialist rulers and capitalist governments in the region today to maintain a grip. It is accelerated by the Barack Obama administration’s drive to seek a strategic accommodation with Moscow and Tehran in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere with the futile hope of achieving stability for U.S. imperialism in the Mideast and beyond.

It’s through fighting for working-class solidarity and organization — in the U.S., the Mideast and across Europe — that working people can begin to break with the capitalist rulers and organize ourselves politically, advancing the interests of all the toilers on the road toward taking power out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters and war makers.


Vol. 79/No. 36       October 12, 2015


Refugees and ‘Open the borders’ 
You describe the demand for Europe, North America and the world to open its borders to Syrian refugees as “utopian.” [But] workers must take responsibility for coming to the aid of these victims of imperialist wars and exploitation. Your editorial only addresses the plight of Syrian refugees, when four-fifths of those attempting to enter Europe are not Syrian. What is your policy to non-Syrian refugees, such as the sub-Saharan Africans attempting to cross the Mediterranean? Or the Latin Americans risking their lives to enter the United States?John SmithSheffield, England

On the question of immigrants and refugees, it is one thing to oppose concrete demands, such as those put forward by the Militant in its Sept. 28 editorial, to a general and utopian call for open borders. But it’s an unnecessary error to go on to say that under capitalist rule, open borders “would lead to increased competition among workers, unemployment, lower wages, and social misery.”
This could create the impression that the Militant believes that immigrants or refugees, and not capitalism, are to blame for these social ills, and, by logical extension, favors restrictions on immigration.
Terry CogganAuckland, New Zealand

I agree with the editors that “Open the borders!” is both a utopian and unclear slogan that doesn’t help advance a course for working people to fight along.
However, the phrase “if adopted under capitalist rule” seemed an unnecessary hypothetical. I felt the demand for open borders was utopian precisely because it’s impossible under capitalism. In that sense the slogan reminded me of demands to “dissolve the police” or “end police brutality,” both of which in a general sense represent aspirations of our class but in practice offer only a radical substitute for political activity.Harry D’Agostino New Paltz, New York

I don’t think you can say that the “Welcome refugees” rallies are calling for “Opening the borders.” Most of those workers and students, about 30,000 in Sweden, were in favor of a more humane treatment of refugees looking for shelter in Europe.Such demands should be supported as well as the U.N. right to seek asylum.Lasse ErlandssonStockholm, Sweden 


Vol. 79/No. 36       October 12, 2015

(Reply to readers)(feature article)
Refugees, class struggle and the fight to unify the working class 


The Militant received half a dozen letters (see below) responding to the editorial “Solidarity with Syrian Toilers, Refugees Key for Working Class,” in the Sept. 28 issue. Several criticized the statement that “a general call to ‘open the borders’” is a utopian demand that “if adopted under capitalist rule would lead to increased competition among workers, unemployment, lower wages and social misery.”

The editorial made it clear that the Militant is against the deportation of Syrians and others who make their way to Europe, or to the U.S. for that matter. “It’s a pressing question for the working class today to fight to organize these men and women as part of the class struggle, in whatever country they end up,” we said.

But unlike the liberals and petty-bourgeois left who seek a universal slogan and focus on refugees and immigrants as poor, suffering victims, communists see fellow workers, potential revolutionaries. We start with the class struggle reality within the countries where we fight and how to unify the working class along the road toward revolutionary struggle to take power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and open the road toward building socialism.

The Sept. 28 editorial explained the need to fight to organize and unionize all workers — regardless of where they were born, what language they speak or what papers they do or don’t have. The chauvinist refusal of the labor misleadership in the U.S. and other imperialist countries the world over to do this is one of the largest obstacles for our class to overcome today.

We promote the fight against every attempt to deny political rights and equal treatment, on and off the job. We join the fight to stop immigration raids and deportations, including the latest move by the German government to speed up removals of those they say are “economic migrants.” And we oppose the fences, internment camps and troops deployed by the capitalist rulers.

The line of march of the working class is toward overturning the dictatorship of capital and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat — a struggle that takes place within national borders in some 190 different countries today. “Working men have no country,” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto in 1848. But, they immediately add, “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy … it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”

Position of Bolsheviks

We stand on the position the Bolsheviks led by V.I. Lenin successfully fought for at the 1907 congress of the Socialist International in Stuttgart, Germany. That gathering decisively rejected a proposal by the Socialist Party of the U.S. to restrict immigration by workers of the “yellow race,” which it said had no other aim than “to destroy labor organizations, to lower the standard of living of the working class and to retard the ultimate realization of socialism.”

It is simply a fact that mass immigration intensifies competition among workers. The resolution adopted by the Stuttgart conference explained that the bosses seek to take advantage of this and the only counterweight to falling wages and worsening job conditions is to organize immigrant workers along with all others and fight against all attempts by the bosses to discriminate, illegalize or deport them. That remains true today.

But we don’t campaign for the abstract demand “open the borders” as an immediate goal — as an editorial in the Sept. 21 Militant and recent statements by Socialist Workers Party candidates and from the Communist Leagues in the U.K. implied — much less as a way forward to “solve” the crisis. It is not only utopian, but an obstacle to laying out a concrete, fighting road forward for uniting workers and advancing the class struggle.

The hundreds of thousands who have found their way to Germany, Sweden, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe over the last year are a small minority of the more than 11 million people in Syria alone, roughly half the population, who have been forced from their homes first and foremost by the brutalities of the Bashar al-Assad regime and, to a lesser extent, by Islamic State. They are largely those with resources to afford a “coyote” to take them out in hopes of a better life.

Some 7.5 million are “internally displaced,” still living in Syria, and millions more are in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Their eyes are on how to move forward where they are and they do not consider leaving the region either a personal option or a way to advance their interests or those of their families and fellow toilers.

Not a repeat of 1930s

Contrary to what is presented in much of the bourgeois press, the current refugee crisis — both in scope and in the conditions of the refugees — is not a repeat of what faced Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, unionists, Roma and others fleeing Hitler’s national socialist regime in the 1930s and during World War II.

Millions died in the pogroms and Nazi concentration camps. As many as 250,000 prisoners were murdered or died on forced marches out of the camps during the last 10 months of the war in Europe, up to one-third of them Jews.

Many of the millions of refugees throughout Europe at the end of the war were near death from starvation, a sharp contrast to the refugees in Europe today, however harsh their current circumstances.

Under those conditions, the Socialist Workers Party and the world communist movement demanded the capitalist rulers open their doors to refugees from countries and regions where working people faced devastating consequences of wars, counterrevolutions, anti-Jewish pogroms and holocausts. In November 1938 the National Committee issued a statement in the party’s press, then the Socialist Appeal, titled, “Let the Refugees into U.S.! Open the Doors to Victims of Hitler’s Nazi Terror.”

But this has not been the political demand raised by communists in most wars, social crises or sharp class battles under capitalism. Instead, internationalist solidarity with their struggles and demands for imperialist hands off have been the watchword. Crisis-wracked capitalism will continue to push millions of people to leave their homelands, driven by economic conditions as well as wars and political repression.

Communists fight for working-class solidarity, and to organize our own proletarian political parties that can lead the fight to take power out of the hands of the capitalist class. Workers who hail from Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mexico, Poland and elsewhere who find themselves in the imperialist centers will be part of these battles — not as a category of immigrants or refugees, but as part of the class struggle. 

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